The Paralegal Certificate is Just the Start of Your Paralegal Training
Indispensable paralegals know that their paralegal certificate is only the beginning of their paralegal training. If you’re like most, you probably spent a good sum of time and money on that paralegal certificate, so it’s not easy to immediately start thinking about more school or more courses. If you’re already employed as a paralegal, it doesn’t take long to figure out that the paralegal certificate was just the start of your paralegal education. That paralegal certificate was the base or the foundation that you can build upon with additional training in your practice area.
Ask Any Experienced Paralegal: How Well Did Your Paralegal Certificate Prepare You for that First Year?
Regardless of the practice area or experience level, all paralegals agree on one thing: if you want a successful career, don’t ever stop looking for opportunities to attend paralegal training events (online or in-person). Think about any skill or hobby that you are really good at – and you know – it takes more than an introductory video or course to get you to the point where you’re really good at it.
I think about the difference between my scuba diving skills and my sailing skills. I’ve been a certified scuba diver for over 10 years. A few years ago, I also got my ASA 101 certification to sail a boat. Which means (technically) I can sail a boat up to 27 foot, in good weather conditions and only on closed bodies of water. Essentially: a small boat on a lake on a sunny day. Since passing that test a few years ago, I’ve only been on a sailboat once (and I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was doing).
That’s what happens when any of us takes a new course on any topic and then we stop learning or don’t put those new skills to practice right away. It got me thinking about how this can also affect a paralegal career if we’re not careful. Unlike my sailing course, I have put my scuba diving course to use a lot throughout the last 10+ years and have refined those diving skills throughout the years. I’ve even taken additional scuba certification courses that made me a better scuba diver. What most people don’t know about getting certified as a scuba diver is that the basic scuba certification course does not teach you how to dive. It teaches you how to not panic and get severely injured when something goes wrong 60 feet below the surface.
There’s a big difference between those two things. It’s the same with the sailing certification. It taught me what to do when things go wrong on a sailboat. It didn’t teach me how to be a master sailor. That comes with practice, continued learning, and more practice. It’s the same with paralegal certificate programs. They teach you how to survive through the basics.
A paralegal certificate program can’t teach you how to be a successful paralegal. Having a successful paralegal career comes with determination, continuously refining (and redefining) your skill set, and a mindset of owning your career.
If you asked 100 paralegals who all went to 100 different paralegal certificate programs, they would all tell you the same thing. The schools taught us theory and terminology, but not the skills that were needed on the first day of that first paralegal job. In defense of all paralegal certificate programs, it would be difficult to teach every skill a paralegal might use at every different type of employer in dozens of different practice areas. They would have to offer separate paralegal certificate programs for every practice area. The skills that you need as a litigation paralegal in a law firm are going to be completely different than the skills you need as a commercial real estate paralegal working in-house for a corporation. This problem is not unique to the paralegal profession. It’s the same when lawyers graduate from law school. They know the case law, rules, and regulations – but they have a lot to learn before they’re actually practicing law without supervision from other lawyers. Ask any of your friends in the finance industry. They might have passed their exams, but they still have a lot to learn through on-the-job training or supplemental courses that teach skills now that they have the base or the foundation of what they needed to know. If you have recently received your paralegal certificate, consider taking some advanced paralegal training courses in a specialty area (such as e-discovery, real estate, or intellectual property) if your school offers them. Many paralegal certificate programs recognize the need for additional specialized training and offer courses in specific practice areas.
The only way to get the critical skills that you need for a successful paralegal career is to take the initiative and go get those skills.
Without them, you’ll be like me out on that sailboat: stuck on that small sailboat in the middle of a small lake and find yourself in trouble if the weather gets bad. With technology now, there are so many easily accessible options for obtaining additional paralegal training at a minimal expense.
Consider some of these options to get the paralegal training you need to further your career.
- Local paralegal association meetings and events
- National paralegal conferences
- Online courses
- Your local paralegal schools (not just the one you attended)
- Vendor technology training events
- Your employer’s intranet site (many will archive prior in-house training events)
- Ask to “shadow” a senior paralegal for a few days
I know it can feel overwhelming to think you just spent all this time and money to get your college degree and then a paralegal certificate – and you thought you were FINALLY done with school. We’re never really done learning. Ask any senior paralegal who is an indispensable member of their team, and they will tell you:
You are never too experienced to learn something new.
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